Creating a Christ candle is a simple, meaningful activity in preparation for Christmas. Stock photo
Creating a Christ candle is a simple, meaningful activity in preparation for Christmas. Stock photo

Christmas is the time when “God’s love is revealed,” Pope Francis reminds us, and though the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our experience of the holidays, we have an opportunity to stay focused on how God’s love continues to be revealed at Christmas. 

“The COVID pandemic will not take away Christmas 2020,” Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., shared in a Christmas message to the faithful. “It will, however, change the way we celebrate it, especially in our churches and parishes.”

So, too, will it change the many ways that we experience Christmas at home and among our loved ones. As one young man, an organ transplant recipient, said of a very different Christmas planned away from family with his 92-year-old grandmother: “For Christmas, my granny and I will play games, cook a nice meal together, share stories and connect with our wider family [online].”

Soothe Your Spirit

While Advent is a time of prayerful interior preparation and joyful waiting for the Birth of Christ, it is also during these weeks that most people plan their Christmas celebrations, shop and decorate. It has become a very busy, often overwhelming time to meet the demands of a secular Christmas. This may be the year to slow things down.

• Displaying an Advent Wreath at home is especially meaningful this year, given the challenges so many are facing.  The circle of the evergreen wreath, which has no beginning or end, represents eternity and the everlasting life found in Christ. The four candles, one lit each week for four consecutive weeks, symbolize hope, peace, joy and love – all experiences we deeply desire.  Sometimes a fifth, white candle representing Christ as the Light of the world is placed in the center of the wreath.  Family prayers to accompany wreath lighting may be found and downloaded for free online from a variety of Catholic publishers or purchased at Catholic bookstores.

• Creating a Christ candle is a simple, meaningful activity in preparation for Christmas. Using a white pillar candle, decorate with cutouts from old Christmas cards, colored stars or Christmas stickers. Tie a bow around the bottom, blue for the Dec. 8 Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and gold for Christmas.

• Prepare an Advent prayer corner, which may also serve as a memorial space for loved ones who have died, so they may be honored and remembered in a special way during the holidays. Include photos, flowers, a Bible and a small box or jar for Advent prayer intentions. Children can help prepare the space and add prayer intentions every day. Intentions may be read before or after a family meal.

Create New Traditions

Most households, whether composed of one person or many, have favorite Christmas traditions.  During this time of pandemic, it’s important to maintain the traditions that bring joy and can be safely undertaken, and adapt those that may need to be done differently this year.

• Make the Nativity a focus of your indoor and outdoor decorations. St. Francis of Assisi understood the power of this image when he decided to create the first nativity scene to strengthen the faith of the people and to reignite a sense of wonder and awe at the Birth of Jesus.  For families with children, include them in the planning and setup. Take photos and share them with loved ones. Whether large or small, store-bought or handmade, this moving scene of the Holy Family does more than send Christmas cheer to passers-by and family members.  It is a powerful reminder of the reason for our joy and celebrations

• “The Night Before Christmas” doesn’t have to be the only poem read on Christmas Eve. Write your own Christmas story or poem to share with your family, or have each child write and illustrate his or her own story, which can be read to the family on Christmas Eve and then saved in a family scrapbook. Through the power of online video chat platforms, children may also read their stories to grandparents, aunts and uncles and others who may not be at the Christmas table this year.

• Consider reviving the lost art of letter writing or the personal note.  Loneliness is a reality for many people, even when we are not dealing with quarantining. Children’s notes to grandparents are sure to be tucked into a treasure box for safe keeping, and a Christmas card with a handwritten note inside or the artistic works of a young child can make all the difference to someone who lives alone, or who are residents in nursing homes or assisted care facilities. Writing, illustrating and adding stamps to cards or letters can be a family affair, as can be dropping them into a safe, outside mailbox at the local post office. 

• Give the gift of prayer.  Outside of Mass or church meetings, our prayers are usually silent offerings, but they don’t have to be. Whether celebrating the holidays alone, or with immediate family, creating a visual reminder of those for whom you are praying is a meaningful addition to a holiday table. For families with children, a simple prayer card could be made by each child using a folded index card to place near their plate. The card may be decorated and should identify those for whom they want to pray, such as grandparents, the poor, homeless children, family members who are sick or absent, or a pet that died. After the prayer of grace is offered, children may share what’s written on their card.

• Embrace giving to others. While many of us look forward to the parish Jesse Tree and a chance to give gifts, the need is growing during the pandemic for basic necessities like food and clothing. Check out local parish ministries and community agencies and food banks for suggestions on what to donate, and get children involved in the process. 

Be Together, Apart

Central to our Christmas celebration is the need to connect.  This happens through gift-giving, sharing meals and playing games.  Some creative planning and use of technology can help maintain the connection to family and friends

• A virtual cookie exchange would begin by inviting friends and family to exchange recipes, then prep and bake the cookies while on video chat. When cookies are done, enjoy with your favorite drink and take time to chat with your fellow online bakers. Making gingerbread houses works, too.

• Christmas dinners are special when shared, but when we can’t be together, online video programs can allow everyone still to be a part of the celebration . If you can’t manage an online dinner, consider sharing grace before meals with distant loved ones and include prayer intentions for those who are not able to be present during the holidays.

• Opening gifts virtually keeps us connected with gift-givers, and online games are an opportunity to share the laughter of the season.  Christmas bingo or a holiday scavenger hunt allows everyone to be part of the fun.

Sing A New Song, And Some Old Ones

Christmas caroling is a time-honored tradition that has, for the most part, fallen by the wayside.  In this time of finding new ways to connect, a traditional Christmas carol outing may become a treasured memory, one to recall the next time family members gather together again.

• Scheduling Christmas carol stops at the home of family and friends can be a time for song or dropping off gifts – from a healthy distance. Getting dressed in caroling clothes adds to the event.

• An alternative to outdoor caroling is the online home concert or family Christmas pageant, recorded and hosted by the family that doesn’t mind being in the spotlight, and shared with family members who might be encouraged to sing along or applaud from their virtual seats. Family Christmas karaoke can also be both fun and inspirational, and if recorded, may delight loved ones who would appreciate another opportunity to stay connected.

• For an inspirational night at home, check local parishes for Christmas concerts online. It’s a good time for hot chocolate and some of those homemade cookies.